My piece earlier this week — noting research that college men have less physical strength than their fathers did — kicked up a bit of a hornet’s nest. I got a number of responses both on Twitter and sent to me privately that took issue with what they called (in general) my hurtful caricature of masculinity.
Not all men need to be strong, they argued. The new economy meant that men didn’t have to be strong to compete, and — besides — many men experienced deep pain when they were mocked as kids for being “sissies” when they didn’t play sports or participate in outdoor activities. My piece brought back bad memories, and revived “toxic” conceptions of gender roles that have allegedly done much harm. . . .
But I don’t care if you’re a social media manager, fashion designer, or full-time e-sports champ who makes seven figures clicking a mouse, life still happens. You never know what tomorrow brings. I’m not saying that everyone should be a body builder or a mechanic — after all, some people will always be better lawyers than lumberjacks — but even lawyers can knock out push-ups and run on a track.
Here’s my own test of reasonable physical strength – one that can be met by every able-bodied and able-minded military-age male in the U.S.
Could you, if necessary, pick up a rifle and defend your nation from its enemies? To make this concrete, could you meet the minimum standards of even the military’s least-demanding physical fitness test?
If an intruder came into your home or a criminal attacked your family, do you have enough physical strength to at least give yourself a chance at fighting off an average attacker?
Are you strong enough to render valuable service to neighbors in need? In other words, could you fill sandbags if there’s a flood, change truck tires if an elderly woman is stranded on the roadside, or provide capable service when the shut-in down the street needs to move her belongings to an assisted living facility?
I raise these items in the context of masculinity not because women can’t help (you should have seen my wife taking her turns carrying our kid) but because men are far better equipped than women to provide immediate physical aid. Your average man simply has much more potential physical strength then your average woman, and the decision to voluntarily let that strength decline is a waste. I should know. As I said before, there was a time when I let myself go, content with the he knowledge that I could succeed as a lawyer and writer without the benefit of a single push-up. I changed course, and it’s made my life better, it’s made my family’s life better, and it’s made me a better example for my son.
Bullying is wrong, but childhood bullying is not a reason to demand less from men but rather a reason to demand civility and manners from the bullies. Crass stereotyping has hurt young men, especially some young teens, but the answer is to confront the crass, not to detonate gender norms. Physical weakness is not a virtue. Voluntary weakness is a vice. And, yes, a man has an obligation to be strong.
Muscular Christianity. Some Anglicans have proposed it. 'Nuff said. I'm working on my own physical deficits after my move to North Carolina after 6 years of apartment living, where I now have a fair amount of physical work to do on a huge lot, as I did on the mountain property where I lived 6 years before that.
The rifle thing I've had down for a long time. Every man a rifleman. That's one of my mottos. To me there is nothing more abominable than an Anglican man who is anti-gun. (Sorry, my English, Canadian, Aussie and Kiwi friends, but riflery is part of your legacy. Check your history. The hoplophobia that currently plagues the Commonwealth is fueled by the spirits of statism, socialism and effeminacy. It's not simply about peaceful social order. )
Work, pray and fight. See The Heroes of Middle-Earth: J. R. R. Tolkien & the Marks of Christian Heroism.